The idea of the Cloverfield franchise so far is an interesting one, with the anthology format providing an interesting way to tell stand-alone science fiction stories within a franchise model. This worked fairly well for Cloverfield in 2008, which created an interesting concept, one only slightly diminished by the imitations which followed. 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane presented us with a similarly stand-alone thriller, which worked remarkably well due to great directing and some excellent central performances. It is disappointing, therefore, that The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t particularly good, even if it could – to an extent – be credited with taking something of a risk. Directed by Julius Onah, the film follows Hamilton (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and the rest of the crew of the Cloverfield station orbiting the earth as they attempt to provide a chaotic earth with infinite energy, despite concerns that their machine may cause a ‘Cloverfield Paradox’. Spoiler alert: It does.
Following the originality of the previous two films, it is slightly frustrating that The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t do anything particularly new; almost every aspect seems to be a paler imitation of better science fiction films. Alien’s claustrophobic elements, reduced number of characters and sudden moments of horror are the most obvious inspiration. Alien, however, employed excellent writing to flesh out its characters, giving the audience good reason to care about them, and this is where The Cloverfield Paradox falters. The characters very rarely extend beyond the archetypes we’ve seen countless times before; there’s the main one, the comic relief one, the shifty one, and so on. Most of the dialogue given to these characters varies between clichéd, expository and simply bizarre. To their credit, most of the cast do their best with what they’re given, most notably Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whose performance gives several quieter scenes far more weight than the rest of the film. Similarly, Chris O’Dowd’s performance adds a bit of humour to the proceedings, even if he often feels like he’s acting in a completely different film to the rest of the cast.
Considering how much of the dialogue in the first act of the film is simply exposition, it is surprising how unclear many aspects of the film are. We are told that there is an energy crisis on earth, for instance, and we hear that many countries are on the brink of war, but we never actually see any evidence of this. Such an ambiguity could be interesting if presented right, but these aspects are simply thrown into conversation, giving us little reason to actually care about them. Similarly, we are told that the machine on board the station will provide an infinite supply of energy for the earth, but it is never made particularly clear how, resulting in a long stretch of the film in which it is difficult to feel like there are particularly high stakes. Instead, the machine works as more of a plot point, relying more on the idea that the audience has seen enough films to understand what it will do than actually serving any narrative purpose.
The plot of the rest of the film does make sense, but never truly extends beyond linearly moving from A to B, with little regard for characters’ motivations. One of the early plot developments is at least interesting, and presented relatively well, but the film soon decides to remove any ambiguity from the situation, largely undoing this good work. The film has some good ideas, and occasionally raises some interesting questions, but it never seems to have any desire to address them on anything other than a surface level. Whilst some scenes may work well in isolation, they often make little sense within the context of the story. The film uses its central concept to suggest that almost anything is possible but, once this is established, the actions taking place on-screen carry little weight. Rather than appearing unpredictable, events simply seem random and confused. Whilst this leads to a few moments of relatively effective body-horror, these are few and far between; scenes frequently simply end abruptly, with no resolution.
The editing of the film also leaves a lot to be desired. The story frequently cuts back to an unrelated story back on earth, which is slightly jarring, and often disrupts what little momentum the story has. The film wasn’t originally part of the Cloverfield franchise, and it is here that this is most obvious, with these earth-based scenes apparently shoe-horned in to establish a link between this film and the previous ones.
What is most frustrating about The Cloverfield Paradox is that it largely wastes the concept of what could have been an interesting story, and creates a film which feels rushed and unpolished. More disappointing however, is the attempt to add it to an apparently unrelated franchise, an idea which detracts from both the film itself and the rest of the series. On a slightly cynical note, it could be suggested that even Netflix’s slightly unorthodox release strategy was based more on a gimmick than actually trying to promote the film. The Cloverfield Paradox may not be bad enough to dampen expectations for the next Cloverfield film, also due out later this year, but it certainly feels like a wasted opportunity; a good concept executed poorly.
Words by Adam Wells